Sermon: Come to the Table
St. Paul’s -- Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
2 Samuel 11.1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6.1-21
What an interesting collection of readings! We began with the story of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. When the affair could not be hidden due to pregnancy, David ultimately resorted to the murder of Uriah, sending the message which would result in actions leading to Uriah’s death with none other than Uriah.
Then the psalmist tells us “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God‘. . . “all are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good . . . everyone has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good; no, not one” (Psalm 14.1-3). If we stopped there, we would end on a real downer! We could all leave now and go sit in sackcloth and ashes. But the good news breaks through! We may be weak, but God would not have us remain so; we may be fallen, but God would lift us up.
In the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul tells us of his prayer for the Christians of Ephesus. First, he prays God grant that they “may be strengthened in their inner being with power through God’s Spirit” (Ephesians 3.16; NRSV).
Second, he prays “that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, as they are being rooted and grounded in love,” that is, as they are slowly being transformed into the image of God (Ephesians 3. 17; NRSV).
Third, Paul prays that they would “comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love (Ephesians 3.18; NRSV). As I thought about breadth, length, height, and depth it struck me that this language reveals a certain perspective. If we are outside an object, we would speak of its breadth, length, and height. But if immersed, or submerged, in something, we speak of breadth, length, height, and depth. Now if Dick Lacher, the old submariner, were here, he could tell us something about being submerged in the middle of an ocean with hundreds of miles of water in any direction, and perhaps 500 feet of water above us, and 30,000 feet below us. The Ephesian Christians were immersed in God’s love, and Paul is praying that they might comprehend the extent and the totality of that love. We could adapt the old Spiritual “So High” and apply it to God’s love: “It’s so high, we can’t climb out of it; it’s so low, we can’t tunnel under it; it’s so wide and so long, we can’t get out of it!”
Last, Paul prays that they may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” that is, that the love of Christ is not simply head knowledge, but heart lived, heart experienced, “so that they may be filled will all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3. 19; NRSV). Let’s admit it, most of us would rather keep God and the love of Christ on the level of knowledge – we think it’s safer! So we have created God in our own image! We understand love in terms of acquiring something. So, when another person fails to love us as we so deserve, to give us what we want, we dismiss them, we write them off! We treat them in a harsh and judgmental fashion. Hence, have we not come to think of God as harsh and judgmental – a God of wrath and fury? When we create God in our own image, we use God for our own purposes! Everybody knows that God sides with the Republicans . . . or the Democrats.
God had, and still has, something else in mind. God want us to understand love with our hearts such that we reflect God’s giving, self-sacrificial love! To fully reveal the nature of that love, God in flesh, Jesus Christ, came to live and dwell among us. Now is where it begins to get good!
The miracle of the feeding of the multitude is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that is recorded in all four Gospels. That should tell us something! This miracle holds a special place in the Gospels!
Sometimes it is rather popular to offer rational explanations for Jesus’ miracles. Consider this rational explanation for the feeding of the multitude: People are hungry and a young boy with five barley loaves and two fishes offers to share what he has with someone else. His example sparks an impulse of sharing such that those who have share with those who have not, and no one goes away hungry. Now that will preach – sharing is commendable. But as Dennis Hamm, SJ, notes, there is just one problem: “There is no evidence in the text that any of the four evangelists meant us to understand the account that way” (Hamm, Dennis: http://liturgy.slu.edu/17OrdB072918/theword_hamm.html ). Hamm continues:
Everything about the account . . . shows that it is not so much a report to be archived as an icon to be contemplated. Whatever happened on that occasion—and it was clearly a miracle, what John calls a “sign,” and not a strategy for sharing—John, like the other evangelists, wants us to hear in it resonances that reach backward into the story of Israel, resonances that touch on current Christian life and worship, and that point to the hope of future fulfillment. The meaning of the episode is not how the physical needs of a particular audience were met on a certain afternoon in Galilee. The meaning, rather, has to do with the “real Jesus”—crucified, raised, and present to the believing community. The focus is on who Jesus is and what he does for those who follow him (ibid.).
Yes, it’s getting good. Let’s look at how Hamm supports this view. Concerning the mountain, Hamm notes that John’s reference is meant to evoke images of Mt. Sinai and Moses; Jesus is the new Moses “leading the people on a new Exodus or freedom journey and seeing that they are organized and fed” (ibid.).
The reference to “Passover time,” Hamm observes, is meant to “link this ‘sign’ with all the other Passover references in the Fourth Gospel, thus associating it with the death and resurrection, the ‘hour’ which is the primary source of abundant life for the Christian community” (ibid.). The “hour” is the Eucharistic Feast where we partake of Christ and fellowship at God’s table. Jesus took the barley loaves and the fish, blessed them, broke them, and gave them.
The barley loaves also call to mind the story of the prophet Elisha using 20 barley loaves to feed one-hundred men. When the people saw what Jesus had done, they exclaimed, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6.14; NRSV). They might as well have added, “Good Lord! Look what he has done with five small barley loaves and two fish!” They would have taken him by force and made him their king, but Jesus withdrew to the mountain by himself.
As evening approached, the disciples went down to the sea, and sailed for Capernaum. It was now dark; due to a strong wind, the sea became rough. They had rowed three or four miles, roughly half way across, when they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat. They were terrified, but Jesus said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6.20; NRSV). Jesus literally said, “I am,” which served as an echo to the “I am” which Moses heard from the burning bush. They wanted to take Jesus into the boat, but they immediately found themselves on the opposite shore.
John employs these miracles to reveal that Jesus is Lord of all. As you may recall, John opens his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1.1, 14; NRSV). The people witnessed his glory in the distribution of the barley loaves and fish; the disciples further witnessed the extent of his glory when he walked on the sea and delivered them to dry land.
And what about us? We can be murderers like Moses and David. We can be an adulterer like David. We are among those named by the psalmist – “there is none who do good; no, not one.” But know this – Jesus comes to us and says, “I am; do not be afraid.” Jesus gathers us up, takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and gives us to a hungry world that we might have joy and that our joy might be complete! These sentiments are beautifully expressed in an invitation to communion from Iona Abbey:
The table of bread and wine is now to be made ready. It is the table of company of Jesus, and all who love him. It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world, with whom Jesus identified himself. It is the table of communion with the earth, in which Christ became incarnate. So come to this table, you who have much faith and you who would like to have more; you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed; come. It is Christ who invites us to meet him here (An Invitation, Iona Abbey  https://www.ionabooks.com/iona-abbey-worship-book.html ).